2003 Progress Report: Vegetative Indicators of Condition, Integrity, and Sustainability of Great Lakes Coastal Wetlands

EPA Grant Number: R828675C002
Subproject: this is subproject number 002 , established and managed by the Center Director under grant R828675
(EPA does not fund or establish subprojects; EPA awards and manages the overall grant for this center).

Center: EAGLES - Great Lakes Environmental Indicators Project
Center Director: Niemi, Gerald J.
Title: Vegetative Indicators of Condition, Integrity, and Sustainability of Great Lakes Coastal Wetlands
Investigators: Johnston, Carol A. , Zedler, Joy B. , Bedford, Barbara L. , Kelly, John T. , Moffett, Mary
Current Investigators: Johnston, Carol A. , Zedler, Joy B. , Bedford, Barbara L. , Kelly, John T.
Institution: University of Wisconsin - Madison , Cornell University , U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Current Institution: University of Minnesota , Cornell University , U.S. Environmental Protection Agency , University of Wisconsin - Madison
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: January 10, 2001 through January 9, 2005
Project Period Covered by this Report: January 10, 2002 through January 9, 2003
RFA: Environmental Indicators in the Estuarine Environment Research Program (2000) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration , Water , Ecosystems


The objectives of this subproject are to: (1) identify vegetative indicators of the condition of Great Lakes coastal wetlands that can be measured at a variety of scales; (2) develop relationships between environmental stressors and those vegetative indicators; and (3) make recommendations about the utility and reliability of vegetative indicators to guide managers toward long-term sustainable development.

Progress Summary:

During the 2003 field season, the Great Lakes Environmental Indicators (GLEI) Wetland Vegetation subproject completed its field sampling. A total of 86 wetland complexes were sampled during the 2001-2003 field seasons. Sampling areas were distributed among the research groups by location: the Cornell University group did sites in Lakes Ontario and Erie, the University of Wisconsin at Madison (UW) group did sites in Lake Michigan, and the Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) group did sites in Lakes Superior and Huron.

The graduate students on the project also sampled additional areas in conjunction with their thesis research:

  • University of Wisconsin at Madison: Christin Frieswyk collected seed bank samples from wet meadow and Typha communities in each of five Green Bay wetlands: segments 294, 299, 302, 303, and 304. These samples will be used to investigate the differences between seed banks from these two communities under different water levels.
  • Cornell University: Lynn Vaccaro worked independently and collected data for her Master’s thesis, comparing the growth and decay of Typha in six Lake Ontario wetlands. Additional segments that were sampled were 721, 725, and 740.
  • Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI): Michael Bourdaghs did a series of nested plots for his Master’s thesis research on the Floristic Quality Index (FQI).

All collected plant specimens have been identified, and all data entry has been completed. Data analysis is ongoing.

In preparation for fieldwork, the subproject held its third annual field camp in Madison, WI, on June 6-7, 2003. The field camp is the only time during the year when all subproject personnel assemble in one location. Field exercises are conducted to ensure that all field personnel are consistent in their visual cover estimation.

The GLEI vegetation subgroup participated in several meetings related to GLEI:

  • March 13, 2003: Lake Ontario Interdisciplinary Science and Management Conference, New York Great Lakes Research Consortium, Syracuse, NY.
  • May 14, 2003: Great Lakes Coastal Wetlands Consortium Inventory and Classification Workshop, Ann Arbor, MI.
  • November 3-5, 2003: Fourth GLEI All Hands Meeting, Duluth, MN (subproject report by Carol Johnston).
  • December 3-6, 2003: Third All Estuarine and Great Lakes (EaGLes) Meeting, Bodega Bay, CA (attended by Carol Johnston).

Carol Johnston and Joy Zedler organized a special symposium entitled, “Coastal Wetland Vegetation as a Harbinger of Environmental Change,” held at the Society for Conservation Biology Annual Meeting in Duluth, MN, on June 29-July 2, 2003. All five symposium speakers are EaGLe researchers: Mark Brinson (Atlantic Slope Consortium), Christin Frieswyk (GLEI), Carol Johnston (GLEI), James Morris (Atlantic Coast Environmental Indictors Consortium), and Dennis Whigham (Atlantic Slope Consortium).

Lynn Vacarro (Cornell) received several awards in 2003 in support of her graduate research initiated under the GLEI project, including: (1) Biogechemistry and Environmental Change Small Grant Program, “Evaluating interactions between road salt and nutrient availability as a mechanism promoting T. glauca dominance of freshwater wetlands” ($4000); (2) Andrew W. Mellon Student Research Grants ($700); and (3) Natural Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship, Cornell Science Inquiry Partnerships (tuition and stipend).

Several students trained under this award have obtained full-time employment in the environmental sciences. Michael Bourdaghs’ graduate training and on-the-job experience led to a job working as a plant specialist to develop indicators in wetlands for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, so his GLEI work will immediately be put to use by a management agency!

Michael Bourdaghs Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, St. Paul, MN
Ken Iverson National Imagery and Mapping Agency, Washington, DC
Charlene Johnson Research Assistant, All Hazard Mitigation Plan, Superior, WI

Future Activities:

All three of the 2003 field team leaders are pursuing graduate degrees and conducting research related but not identical to the aims of the GLEI Wetland Vegetation subproject. Their tentative plans are described below.

Michael Bourdaghs (NRRI): Properties and Performance of the Floristic Quality Index in Great Lakes Coastal Wetlands

The FQI is a biotic, or content-based, index that has been proposed as a tool to identify areas that have high conservation value, monitor sites over time, assess the anthropogenic impacts of an area, and ultimately, measure the ecological condition of an area. The FQI is based on a measurement called the Coefficient of Conservatism, which is a numerical score assigned to each plant species in a local flora that ranges from 0-10, and reflects the likelihood that a species is found in natural habitats. FQI is computed by multiplying the mean Coefficient of Conservatism by the square root of species richness for an observational unit. Great Lakes coastal wetlands were used to assess the performance, particularly as ecological indicators, and properties of various species richness, Coefficient of Conservatism, and Floristic Quality indices. Michael presented a thesis seminar on February 20, 2004, and is expected to defend during Spring 2004.

Christin Frieswyk (UW): Ecosystem Resilience and the Behavior of Typha Species in Lake Michigan Coastal Wetlands

Christin is addressing the idea of resilience in coastal wetlands. A loss of resilience might be indicative of future changes in wetland composition and structure and then could serve as a red flag for a change in wetland health. Thus, lowered resilience has implications for both management and restoration of coastal wetlands. In naturally resilient coastal wetlands, the extent of Typha was historically limited by water level fluctuation, but in Lake Michigan, Typha stands appear to be growing despite highly fluctuating water levels. This research will: (1) explore the nature of resilience in these wetlands, recent deviations from the historic cycle of vegetation change, and nearby development using aerial photographs; (2) describe the nature and extent of Typha dominance in Lake Michigan wetlands, especially among Typha species, and relationships with diversity of native plants, and (3) determine the ability of Typha-dominated coastal wetlands to regenerate via the seed bank.

Lynn Vaccaro (Cornell): Patterns of Cattail Dominance and Implications for Vegetation Structure and Function in Great Lakes Wetlands

T. glauca dominated many of the wetland sites surveyed in the southern eco-province of the Great Lakes, potentially confounding efforts to develop plant community-based indicators. Typha’s high productivity and pattern of senescing in an upright position may influence plant community composition and habitat structure, particularly in wetlands with dampened hydrologic fluctuations. This work investigates: (1) the distribution of Typha species across the Great Lakes in relation to a variety of landscape characteristics; (2) the influence of Typha litter on species composition; and (3) the dynamics of Typha live and dead biomass in two different wetland settings. GLEI survey data indicate that the coverage of litter is greater and less variable in wetlands with a greater coverage of Typha species. To evaluate the direct effect of Typha biomass on species composition, we conducted an experimental manipulation of Typha litter. Results of litter addition and removal treatments show that a persistent litter layer negatively influences the establishment of other species.

The buildup of dead plant material may be one mechanism by which Typha influences the plant community and may contribute to a wetland’s vulnerability to Typha dominance. To better understand what controls the persistence of a thick litter layer, Typha’s pattern of production, senescence, and decomposition in different wetland settings were compared. It was hypothesized that a wetland’s connection to Lake Ontario and its resulting seasonal hydrologic regime affects the breakdown, decomposition, and nutrient release from standing and fallen litter. To test this hypothesis, plant species composition, biomass production, standing and fallen litter pools, decomposition, and tissue nutrient concentrations in wetlands hydrologically open and closed to Lake Ontario were measured. Ultimately, data will be synthesized to address the question of whether Typha’s “functional role” differs markedly between connected and unconnected wetlands, providing a better understanding of how Typha species influence wetland vegetation structure and function.

Journal Articles on this Report : 4 Displayed | Download in RIS Format

Other subproject views: All 37 publications 9 publications in selected types All 7 journal articles
Other center views: All 268 publications 54 publications in selected types All 45 journal articles
Type Citation Sub Project Document Sources
Journal Article Danz NP, Regal RR, Niemi GJ, Brady VJ, Hollenhorst T, Johnson LB, Host GE, Hanowski JM, Johnston CA, Brown T, Kingston J, Kelly JR. Environmentally stratified sampling design for the development of Great Lakes environmental indicators. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 2005;102(1-3):41-65. R828675 (Final)
R828675C001 (2003)
R828675C001 (2004)
R828675C001 (Final)
R828675C002 (2003)
  • Abstract from PubMed
  • Full-text: Springer - Full Text PDF
  • Abstract: Springer
  • Journal Article Johnston CA, Meysembourg P. Comparison of the Wisconsin and National Wetlands Inventories. Wetlands 2002;22(2):386-405. R828675 (Final)
    R828675C002 (2002)
    R828675C002 (2003)
    R828675C002 (Final)
  • Full-text: University of Minnesota PDF
  • Abstract: BioOne
  • Journal Article Johnston CA. Shrub species as indicators of wetland sedimentation. Wetlands 2003;23(4):911-920. R828675 (Final)
    R828675C002 (2003)
    not available
    Journal Article Kercher SM, Frieswyk CB, Zedler JB. Effects of sampling teams and estimation methods on the assessment of plant cover. Journal of Vegetation Science 2003;14(6):899-906. R828675 (Final)
    R828675C002 (2002)
    R828675C002 (2003)
    R828675C002 (2004)
    R828675C002 (Final)
    R828010 (Final)
  • Full-text: University of Wisconsin - Full Text PDF
  • Abstract: Wiley Online-Abstract
  • Supplemental Keywords:

    vegetative indicators, coastal wetlands, floristic quality assessment index, ecosystem resilience, aquatic acrophytes, Great Lakes, environmental indicators,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT, Geographic Area, Water, ECOSYSTEMS, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Nutrients, Ecosystem/Assessment/Indicators, Ecosystem Protection, Ecological Effects - Environmental Exposure & Risk, Environmental Monitoring, Ecological Monitoring, Ecological Risk Assessment, Ecology and Ecosystems, Great Lakes, Ecological Indicators, Risk Assessment, ecological condition, nutrient supply, coastal ecosystem, nutrient transport, aquatic ecosystem, diatoms, hydrological stability, ecosystem assessment, hierarchically structured indicators, wetland vegetation, vegetative indicators, environmental stressor, hydrological, coastal environments, environmental consequences, ecological assessment, estuarine ecosystems, nutrient stress, ecosystem indicators, aquatic ecosystems, toxic environmental contaminants, water quality, ecosystem stress

    Relevant Websites:

    http://glei.nrri.umn.edu Exit

    Progress and Final Reports:

    Original Abstract
  • 2001
  • 2002 Progress Report
  • Final Report

  • Main Center Abstract and Reports:

    R828675    EAGLES - Great Lakes Environmental Indicators Project

    Subprojects under this Center: (EPA does not fund or establish subprojects; EPA awards and manages the overall grant for this center).
    R828675C001 Great Lakes Diatom and Water Quality Indicators
    R828675C002 Vegetative Indicators of Condition, Integrity, and Sustainability of Great Lakes Coastal Wetlands
    R828675C003 Testing Indicators of Coastal Ecosystem Integrity Using Fish and Macroinvertebrates
    R828675C004 Development and Assessment of Environmental Indicators Based on Birds and Amphibians in the Great Lakes Basin
    R828675C005 Development and Evaluation of Chemical Indicators for Monitoring Ecological Risk